Mary Cain

Mary Cain (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Two days from racing in her second IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season, and one practically on home turf in New York, Mary Cain was stressed out on Thursday, June 12.

About taking her driver’s test.

“I am super-duper excited for graduation,” said the 18-year-old Bronxville High School senior from New York State, who was also the the 2013 IAAF Rising Star of the Year. “But the day before, I take my driver’s test so I am really hoping that by graduation I will have my driver’s license.

“The thing is I can drive. I’ve driven on highways. I know what I am doing. But it’s a matter of passing the test. I can parallel park, but what if I don’t? Then that’s bad.”

To outsiders it might seem like Cain is living a double life, one weekend filling the role of a phenomenal and prodigious professional athlete headlining the women’s 800m at the adidas Grand Prix on Randall’s Island in upper Manhattan; the next completing the same rite of passage as millions of teens across America.

But according to Cain, nothing has changed since her decision to enter the professional athletics ranks.

“To me I have never seen a difference. Really, it is the same routine. The literal idea and concept of going professional it really hasn’t changed anything for me, and I am glad about that. That is one of the reasons I chose that path.”

And there is certainly evidence to support her claim.

Cain has had to hit the books hard in her final year of high school, taking Advanced Placement courses in Latin, Literature and two levels of Economics.

“The Latin test was a struggle,” she said. “There were a lot of people that I saw drawing nice pictures during it, but I took it really seriously and tried. Hopefully it went well.”

Disney distractions

She is still the self-proclaimed Disney kid, pointing out that Frozen is “a quality movie,” lamenting the fact that “nobody has seen the Black Cauldron but me,” and proclaiming Bambi to be, “a tearjerker.”

Cain, like many of her peers, attended her senior prom in mid-May. “That is why I didn’t get to do a lot of early racing,” she said. “But I had a great time. It was really fun hanging out with all of my friends.”

She is also already contemplating her first semester college workload in the fall.

“I am pretty much going to take a normal class load,” said Cain, who will pursue a major in chemistry at the University of Portland from September.

“In the fall, I will probably overload it a little bit, maybe take 18 credits and then maybe in the spring back off and take maybe 14 credits because I am going in with a lot of AP (Advanced Placement) credits already.”

But, then again, there is equally as many indicators that Cain is not the prototypical teenager.

How many prospective college freshmen have the option of evicting their future roommate to make room for an altitude tent?

“I probably won’t have a roommate because I do sleep in an altitude tent and I’m sure I would make lots of friends then,” she said. “I went to the school and kind of explained my situation and they were super-understanding.”

How many high school-aged runners would be upset running 2:02.31 for the 800m, as Cain did at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene on 31 May, a time only two other girls her age have ever achieved?

“I was a little disappointed with only running 2:02,” she said. “With that being said, I’m kind of building back into shape. I think these past two weeks I have gotten better.”

How many high school-aged runners are pondering a summer spent racing the best of the best around Europe, or chasing a fun experience and possibly a gold medal at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene?

Eugene and European experiences ahead

“Probably in August, I will try to run a few Diamond League events, but right now I am interested in running at the World Juniors,” Cain explained.

“We are not 100 per cent official or anything. We don’t necessarily even know what race. I was thinking maybe a 3K because it would be a chance to do something a little crazy and have some fun. But the 800m and 1500m are open as well.”

And how many high school girls have to fend off siblings from raiding their latest shipment of gear provided by her sponsor?

“They take a lot of my things,” Cain joked about her older sister and two younger sisters. “Things disappear and all of a sudden I see them wearing it and I’m like, ‘I like those too you know!’”

But mostly, Cain says she has become more driven.

“My attitude toward workouts is a little bit different, but it is kind of because I am more motivated.

“I feel like I am more intense than I was last year. If I am feeling like I don’t want to do core one day, I am more likely to do it. I tell myself, ‘I am doing this. I want to do this. I made the decision to fully commit to doing this.’

“I don’t ever really look at running as a job. I know what I did last year and know what I can do and I want to get there. I can see the hanging fruit. Now it’s me pushing myself to get there.”

Cain credited her support system with enabling her to maintain what she describes as a normal lifestyle.

She said that although there are regular conversations about track and field at home, and her mother occasionally times her workouts and serves as a conduit for coach Alberto Salazar, her family life is not centered on her running.

“I feel like we’re as crazy as anybody else is,” said Cain.

“We talk about school gossip, school drama. My older sister is down in college, another sister does field hockey, so we have a lot more going on than just me. I’ve seen what can happen to people who are super-track oriented and I don’t want that to be me. I like having other things on my mind. I like being able to talk about the World Cup.”

Kindergarten chums’ confusion

Cain also has maintained a close circle of friends since kindergarten, many of whom are oblivious to the intricacies of the sporting world.

“They don’t even know what the NCAA is,” reflected Cain about her friends. “They go to school for academics. They were confused that people didn’t do that. It was more difficult explaining to them that there was another option than going pro. It was kind of a funny exchange.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I decided to go pro.’

“Then I’d get a few kids who said, ‘Wait. You weren’t already a professional?’

“I’m like, ‘No, I was not!’

“Then they are like, ‘Oh, okay. So, what else could you have done?’

“I’d say, ‘I could run in the NCAA.’

“They’d answer, ‘I thought that was only for football.’

“I’d respond, ‘No, there are other sports.’

“They would ask, ‘Why would you do that? Don’t you go to school?’

“I would say, ‘Yeah, you still get an education.’

“They would say, ‘We’re very confused.’”

Cain added, “Thankfully, I don’t have to have that conversation anymore because I’m a pro.”

(Courtesy of Joe Battaglia/IAAF Diamond League)